Mark gives a lot of speeches. It is part of his job. It is so funny to me when people ask, "So, he just swims for a living?" No. He swims, yes, but he also hosts clinics, gives speeches, and makes appearances.
One of Mark's favorite "jobs" is talking to the Auburn Swim Camp each summer. We love Auburn (see picture below for proof). So, Mark is more than thrilled to speak to young swimmers that travel from far and wide to participate in Auburn Swim Camp. One night during swim camp, the campers gather in the big auditorium and Mark tells them stories about the day he decided that he was going to become an Olympian (this is my favorite story, have you heard it? Someday, I'll ask him to tell you), about how his coach pushed him to a best time with Van Halen tickets, and how all he used to want was to get on TV. The kids love it. They ask a lot of questions which often make Mark laugh.
Last night Mark told me that he cried at swim camp.
I guess I should tell you that Mark, generally speaking, is a crier to begin with. He is an emotional guy. He cries when he is happy (this wedding season has been rough for him) and when he is sad. He even told me that last night one of the kids asked if he had ever cried at practice. Mark's response? "Yes. I've also said a lot of bad words. But, in both situations I made sure I was under water." He even told the kids that after any practice, even those in which your coach makes you cry, to thank your coach for making you better. Ha!
Why did Mark cry at swim camp last night? He was retelling the story of the 2004 Auburn University 200 medley relay at NCAA's. It was Mark's senior year (and mine, too). The AU relay consisted of Mark, Doug Van Wie, Derek Gibb, and Fred Bousquet. They were swimming against the Texas relay (others were in the race, but no one else seemed to matter) which consisted of Brendan Hansen, Aaron Peirsol, Garrett Weber-Gale, and Ian Crocker--they were pretty much the All-star team. Long story short, and against all odds, Auburn won.
When Mark retells this story he emphasizes the determination of the underdog. He talks about the power of a collective effort. He highlights the importance of belief in yourself even when the odds are against you. Makes me want to cry just telling you about how he cried as retold the epic story. I have often heard him tell people that that moment, that relay, that race, and those guys made up one of the best moments of his life.
I did not attend Mark's speech last night, but I wish I were a fly on the wall. I wish I could have seen those campers faces when Might Mark started boo-hooing as he spoke of the relay. My guess is that first they were uncomfortable. But then, I would almost put money on it, I bet those kids walked away from Mark's session with a different attitude, a different perspective, and a different commitment to the sport of swimming, to their coaches, to their teammates, and to themselves. I'm confident that each and every one of those campers are hoping that someday they'll have a swimming moment that brings them to tears.